ASHE COUNTY CIVIL WAR HISTORY
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This information comes from Martin Crawford, University of Keele, Keele, England. The Journal of Southern History Vol. LV, No. 3, August 1989
"Political Society in a Southern Mountain Community: Ashe County, North Carolina, 1850-1861." (The following is heavily paraphrased and condensed.)
| Ashe county underwent a remarkable transformation in early 1861 as
the Civil War brewed. Early on the county expressed a strong Union sentiment, in
February rejecting a NC sucession convention 758 to 144 with a lively debate and massive
gathering in Jefferson. By March, the tide had turned. Fort Sumter and Lincoln's
call for 75,000 volunteers changed prior opinions. The county, long isolated by
geography and custom, was nonetheless influenced by National and State events and
politics. Men like Thomas Crumpler, Ashe County Representative in the House of
Commons, who in January stated that the county was not likely to support succession, by
July rode as a Confederate calvary Major, and died from wounds at Willis' Church, Va in
In 1799, the county was organized with a population of about 3,000 and a handful of slaves. By 1840, the population was 7,500 and 497 slaves. In 1860, there were only 391 slaves, less than 5 percent of the county population, but the correlation between large landholdings and slave ownership and wealth and political power was foremost in the county. Foremost among county slaveholders was George Bower, whose family gave the land for the county seat at Jefferson, with a thousand acres and 34 slaves. Bower famously drowned in late 1861 while chasing an escaped slave across the swollen Yadkin River in Wilkes County.
By 1860, fourteen men posessed 400 or more improved acres: all were slaveholders. These fourteen prominent county men comprised less than 1% of the county population, but they held 14% of total improved acreage. All slaveholders in Ashe comprised only 6.6% of the population, but they owned 49.8% of the county wealth. Only one person held more than ten thousand dollars in personal property without slaveholdings, and he was a merchant who had moved into the county from Tennessee.
In the 1850's these interests fought against ad valorem taxation which would have taxed all property, including slaves, at market value rather than a fixed rate. Yet by 1857, democratic trends had emerged in the county, and the fifty-acre property requirement to vote in State Senatorial elections was rejected by a majority of 1,415 to 38 in Ashe.
Ashe County land and wealth were distributed in a highly unequal manner in 1860. Most yeoman farmers in the county lived a subsistence existence and would have derived little benefit from slavery.
Overall the basic economic and political pattern of Ashe County in 1860 was little different than the oligrachy of plantation farmers in the deep South. In fact, while absent cotton and tobacco plantations, as a percentage of land control and personal wealth, the disparities were greater in Ashe County by a factor of seven.
Another element in the local consideration was likely racial violence. In 1854 a slave named Issac murdered his mistress, a Mrs. Mitchell, in Ashe County, while three years earlier sveral slaves from Ashe and Grayson County, Va, apparently under the influence of Jarvis Bacon, an Ohio abolitionist, were involved in a violent outbreak that resulted in the death of Sam Bartlett, the brother of Ashe County's sheriff. And of course nationally, John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry, W Va, was in October 1959, and after the news of that event a local militia was raised, one of 30 in NC.
Between April and August 1861, Ashe County contributed four full companies of Confederate volunteers. Of the 9 Officers and 154 enlisted men, at least 49 did not survive the war, with 14 dead at Gettysburg. Few local men joined Federal forces: 3,100 in the entire State of North Carolina joined the Union, compared to 31,000 from East Tennessee alone.
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